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Reader Writer Runner (Victoria, BC)

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The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue
The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue
by David Sax
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
5 used & new from CDN$ 12.26

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., June 23 2014
3.5 Stars...

Breathe a sigh of relief: David Sax makes it clear that his new book aims to examine the rise and decline of food trends while neither creating guilt nor encouraging a "healthier" lifestyle. His refreshing approach of discussing food without diet counselling allows the reader to appreciate the author's careful, detailed study of why industry fads blossom and wane.

Sax divides "The Tastemakers" into three parts, the first of which describes the four types of trends: cultural (sex appeal), agricultural, chef-driven and health-driven. Here, Sax’s personal interactions with each participant in this sequence offer fascinating insider information and lend credibility to his analysis. Part II studies the most intriguing aspect of food trends: how they become part of our lives. Sax challenges the notion that fads catch on randomly by peering into the food company board room, in which corporate honchos meticulously consider data collected on consumer habits before developing a new product. Devious marketing ploys admit certain foods to the "cool club," guaranteeing that we devour them as if they're going out of style. Finally, part III discusses the demise of food trends such as fondue. Sax also explores political issues, delving into food truck wars and municipal legislation.

Unfortunately, "The Tastemakers" suffers from occasional gender stereotypes. A male grain grower comes across as as a warrior who paddles a canoe into alligator-infested waters to hand-harvest rice whereas Sax describes a female goat-herder and artisanal caramel maker as “a slender, freckly redhead with J. Crew catalog looks,” who is lucky enough to sport an “equally hunky husband.” Nearly twice as many men as women have quotes in the book and Sax obnoxiously overdoes the adjective "ballsy" when referring to courage.

Sax sometimes jumps too fast and too far between subjects and his collection of anecdotes interspersed with opinion ultimately leaves the reader hungry for something deeper. But, in fairness, targeting the massive, intricately connected world of food trends in a journalistically reported book is no mean feat. "The Tastemakers" provides plenty of dinner-party facts and tells the compelling truth that the human diet consists of both what the body needs and what society tells us the body needs.

Can't and Won't
Can't and Won't
by Lydia Davis
Edition: Hardcover
20 used & new from CDN$ 14.15

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., June 22 2014
This review is from: Can't and Won't (Hardcover)
If Alice Munro can express the pain, loneliness and anguish of a lifetime in 30 stunning pages, Lydia Davis can do the same in a few sentences. Indeed, no one writes like Davis; her ability to compress intense, significant details into an impossibly crisp style puts her prose in a class of its own.

In her new collection, "Can't and Won't," Davis creates stories from next to nothing. Sometimes only conveying a single observation, she excises all superfluous details and leaves only a kernel of completeness. A seemingly minor detail, an apparently casual conversation or a studied, minute thing can become a story with brevity providing the finishing touch rather than leaving the reader hankering for the unsaid. "Bloomington," for example, reads in its entirety: “Now that I have been here for a little while, I can say with confidence that I have never been here before.”

Some stories read like aphorisms, some like parables. Some originate from dreams, most transform the banal into the miraculous. Humourously, Davis also employs the genre of the complaint letter, pouring discomfort and anxiety into a non-personal entity. The stories, "Letter to a Frozen Peas Manufacturer" and "Letter to a Peppermint Candy Company" exemplify a fun and unique style.

In her notes, Davis explains that thirteen of her stories were “formed from material found in letters written by Gustave Flaubert during the period he was working on Madame Bovary.” Finally, her most moving story also takes up the most real estate: "The Seals" tells a poignant tale about the continental drift between parents and children, brothers and sisters. Another writer would have written a whole novel on the subject; Lydia Davis says it all in a matter of few pages.

The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting
The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting
Price: CDN$ 13.19

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., June 21 2014
Alfie Kohn currently reigns as America's gadfly on parenting and education discourse, constantly challenging popular views with solid evidence to the contrary. His newest book, "The Myth of the Spoiled Child," refutes the prevailing picture both of modern parents as over-involved and indulgent and of children as narcissistic and ill-prepared for adulthood. But Kohn does not argue for permissive parenting here; rather, he offers a point-by-point response to said baseless social criticism. Though Kohn occasionally presents as peeved and defensive towards the researchers he considers biased, he does meticulously discredit prevalent assumptions about falling school standards, pervasive selfishness, and the too-touted benefits of self-discipline and failure.

Kohn astutely points out a longstanding cultural tendency to decry each generation as worse behaved than the last but reminds us that, "Every generation is Generation Me, at least until they grow up." He shows that permissive parenting does not damage children and he debunks what he terms "BGUTI," the viewpoint that kids "Better Get Used To It," ("it" referring to difficult situations and early hardships). Instead, he argues that experiencing success and joy, feeling supported and respected, receiving unconditional care and having a say about what happens in their lives best prepare children to deal with the challenges of the real world.

"The Myth of the Spoiled Child" ends with clear advice: teach children to care about social issues, support their assertiveness and encourage skepticism. Nobly, Kohn pushes parents to raise independent thinkers and analytical dissenters, ones set on questioning the status quo and motivated enough to work towards positive change.

The Holmes Manual
The Holmes Manual
by Mike Holmes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.94
8 used & new from CDN$ 21.94

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., June 19 2014
This review is from: The Holmes Manual (Hardcover)
Celebrity handyman Mike Holmes has a point to drill into every homeowner: when your house talks, you need to listen. "The Holmes Manual" breaks from the author's previous emphasis on hiring a professional and offers 308 pages of colour photos, tips, sidebars and advice on home maintenance and DIY projects. Holmes methodically maps out virtually every telltale sign that a home needs attention, from fogged up windows to a squeaky floor to a cold bedroom.

The eight detailed chapters cover exteriors, attics, windows, floors and plumbing to name just a few topics. Apparently, in penning his advice, Holmes drew on common questions he has received from audience members at speaking events across the country. Within each chapter, he offers tips to help homeowners protect themselves such as going beyond minimum code when replacing a roof. He asserts that the more people know about their homes, the more grief and money they will ultimately save.

Though the renovations for which Holmes advocates in this book do not come with the "wow factor" of a new kitchen or shiny hardwood floors, they do keep your house structurally sound. With photos of how a job should look versus a job gone wrong and charts with pros and cons of different building materials, Holmes provides an educational tool that encourages readers to slow down and be "at one" with their houses.

Starting from Scratch: What You Should Know about Food and Cooking
Starting from Scratch: What You Should Know about Food and Cooking
by Sarah Elton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 14.40
31 used & new from CDN$ 7.88

5.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., June 16 2014
Previously known for her adult non-fiction titles, "Locavore" (2010) and "Consumed" (2013), CBC Radio food columnist Sarah Elton has entered uncharted territory with "Starting from Scratch." She aims her new book at kids though newbie chefs of any age would appreciate this engaging and informative introduction to food and cooking.

Elton covers a wide range of topics here: the history of various international culinary traditions, the science of cooking, instructions on following a recipe, tips for organizing and stocking your kitchen and, of course, advice on beginning to cook. While the book’s early chapters deal mostly with food culture, Elton immediately works interactive elements into the pages.The “no-smell challenge,” for example, asks readers to taste the difference between an apple and an onion with their noses plugged by clothespins. Further along in the book, Elton offers simple recipes including pasta sauce, granola, and oatmeal cookies. Brief sections on food security and labels (organic, free-range etc) give older readers pause for thought. Finally, appendices include more recipes and a guide to pairing flavours as well as several handy measurement-conversion charts.

"Starting from Scratch" shines because of its friendly, accessible approach to teaching kids about the importance of healthy eating and food preparation. Although packed with information, the text never seems dense or overwhelming thanks to its presentation in easily digestible blocks of print and colourful sidebars. Jeff Kulak’s fun, bright illustrations add a whimsical touch and inspire readers to take pride in their own cooking adventures.

The Stuff of Life: How to Style and Display Your Most Treasured Possessions
The Stuff of Life: How to Style and Display Your Most Treasured Possessions
by Hilary Robertson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.22
29 used & new from CDN$ 25.06

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., June 11 2014
After spending much of the past decade in New York styling home interiors for magazines like "Real Simple" and "Town & Country," British designer Hilary Robertson has become an expert on "The Stuff of Life," a perfect title for her new book devoted to the art of display.

In its first two chapters, "How to Arrange Your Stuff" and "Where to Arrange It," the book dispenses valuable advice on showcasing the objects in your life. The second part of the book, "Stories Told by Real Homes," provides inspiration from real-life examples. Albeit slightly esoteric and unachievable for most, the collection of decorating ideas will certainly prod readers to think outside the box. Vignettes include a sage green wall behind a display of mottled enamel kettles; an Eames Eiffel chair paired with a farm table; daybeds placed at right angles to each other in lieu of sofas and cabinets painted a deep cobalt blue in a kitchen where utensils are repurposed as light fixtures and frying pans hang as wall decor.

Whether you identify as a naturalist, a bohemian, a collector or a minimalist, "The Stuff of Life" will certainly have you rearranging your coffee table.

Dirty Food: It's Daring, It's Wicked, But Boy Is It Good
Dirty Food: It's Daring, It's Wicked, But Boy Is It Good
by Carol Hilker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.03
30 used & new from CDN$ 15.84

2.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., June 10 2014
I had no idea what to expect from a cookbook called "Dirty Food," though the adjective "wicked" certainly made its contents sound intriguing. Unfortunately, both the title and the jacket description promising "daring and devilishly delicious recipes" drastically overstate the book's excitement factor.

Yes, the 60-plus dishes in this book will probably get your hands dirty. Yes, they include some interesting, upscale versions of classic comfort foods such as Blueberry Cotton Candy Pancakes, Pretzel Croissants and Belgian Waffles with Maple-Cured Bacon. But largely, the fare borders on run-of-the-mill: fried chicken, coleslaw, apple pie and pickles. Even the internationally inspired recipes only extend as far as spring rolls and pad thai.

"The best worst food you will ever eat” looks, well, dirty on paper; it appears as though someone has spilled sprinkles, seeds, powdered sugar, crumbs and syrup across the pages. The deeply hued photos attempt to evoke a semi-industrial, vintage, hipster diner but the dishes presented on wood with chipped paint, discolored metal and dented trays only come across as slapdash and unappetizing.

The author calls the book “a lust letter (or perhaps a dirty text) to food.” Don't hold your breath for anything too scintillating.

by Claire Battershill
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.88
6 used & new from CDN$ 15.88

4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., June 9 2014
This review is from: Circus (Paperback)
4.5 stars...

At 28, B.C. native Claire Battershill has already won the CBC Literary Award, co-won the Canadian Authors Association’s Emerging Writer Award, and made the final list for the inaugural PEN International/New Voices Award. Her debut collection, "Circus," proves that she deserves such acclaim. Her stories show that everyday life comprises moments of grandeur; she continually transforms a string of events that no one would as special or noteworthy into the greatest show on Earth.

Battershill transports readers from a crowded airport departure lounge to the stillness of the British Museum, from the spectacle of the Winter Olympics to the modesty of a local Miniatureland, all the while using an unpretentious, conversational style. The stories weave sentences together with an effortless, magical proficiency and turn banal questions into profound ones: what do you do when you come across an a old, unlocked bicycle and get the sudden urge to take it for a spin? What might compel someone to create a miniature world, to spend her life painstakingly crafting perfect replicas of her existence so she doesn't have to leave the past behind? How might a chance encounter as a teenager at a jump rope competition change the trajectory of your life and your thoughts?

Furthermore, these radiant stories explore the often surprising things we do in the hope of love and connection. Battershill's all-too-human cast of characters sits on the cusp of enormous change; each individual must balance his/her obsessions, idiosyncrasies and unusual talents in order to deal with it.

A whimsical, wondrous and wise exploration into human relationships and the passions that bind them.

The Dolphin Way: A Parent's Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids, Without Turning Into a Tiger
The Dolphin Way: A Parent's Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids, Without Turning Into a Tiger
by Shimi Kang M.D.
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.81

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., June 4 2014
Tigers. Brick walls. Helicopters. Jellyfish. Parenting metaphors abound these days and each carries a stigma for its extremist methods: too demanding, too rigid, too controlling, too blasé. Has the middle ground completely disappeared? How did previous generations manage to raise healthy, capable kids with so few resources? In "The Dolphin Way," Dr. Shimi Kang proposes a parenting model that harkens back to a time when terms like "over scheduling" didn't even exist.

Early on in her own parenting, Kang epitomized the Tiger Mom. However, she soon realized how dramatically her own childhood mirrored the one she and her husband were giving their two kids. Both busy with their careers, they tried to mould their children into perfect little humans before asking, how important is it that they become Valedictorians, science fair winners, concert pianists, and team captains?

After conducting extensive research, Kang concludes that both Tiger Parents and Jellyfish Parents wind up with the same unmotivated, non-self directed, low-confidence children. Having learned neither to make their own decisions nor to survive the negative effects of inevitable wrong decisions, the children of Tigers and Jellyfish cannot pick themselves up and move on; they have to waffle and wobble their way into the real world. This may, Kang asserts, account for the extremely late age at which so many of today’s generation leave home; current methodology seems unsuccessful in fostering independence, self-control and responsibility.

"The Dolphin Way" not only analyzes the problem but also offers thoughtful solutions as Dr. Kang walks readers through a four-part method of intuitive parenting. Rather than stressing rules and regimens, she shows parents how to instil in their children the adaptability, resilience, and self-motivation needed for adulthood. In using real-life examples from her work as the director for Child and Youth Mental Health for Vancouver, this book urges parents to take a discerning look at themselves and their schedules and to ask some hard questions.

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
by Heather Oneill
Edition: Hardcover
7 used & new from CDN$ 35.24

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts..., June 2 2014
Montreal native Heather O'Neill won national acclaim for her debut novel, "Lullabies for Little Criminals" (2006), which tells of a 12-year-old girl under the care of her heroin-addicted father. Eight years later, O'Neill has returned with another touching coming-of-age story that takes place in Montreal's seamy neighbourhoods. "The Girl Who Was Saturday Night" reveals O'Neill's personal ties to the rough side of the city; her detailed descriptions of the area and its inhabitants have a brutally honest quality with just the right mix of humour and affection.

"Saturday Night" opens in 1994, just before the second Quebec referendum. Its narrator, Nouschka Tremblay lives in a squalid apartment on Saint-Laurent with her grandfather, Loulou, and her twin brother, Nicolas, from whom she is inseparable. The only children of famous though philandering, degenerate folksinger Étienne Tremblay, the beautiful, charismatic twins spent most of their childhoods performing onstage with their father and, hence, the public still knows them as "Little Nouschka" and "Little Nicolas." Now, the media attention has mostly faded but the twins still cling to the belief that they have exceptional talents. When Nouschka appears in the St. Jean Baptiste Day parade as "Miss Montreal," the media spotlight returns and brings with it a documentary filmmaker who exposes the truth about the family's wretched existence and skewed relationships. It thus becomes impossible for Nouschka to continue believing in her charmed life; she must leave the fantasy behind and face the real world on her own.

As in "Lullabies," O'Neill displays an impressive talent for sinking into the mindset of her narrator and giving the reader access into her realm. Nouschka doesn't gloss over the harsh world in which she lives; she simply and personably explains it as she sees it. In delightful prose, O'Neill uses vivid metaphors and descriptions that show Nouschka's imaginative view of reality. She even uses the 1994 referendum as a metaphor symbolizing Nouschka's internal struggle: maintain status quo or break from her destructive family and create her own new existence?

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